SCG CON Vintage Crash Course

Of all the events happening at SCG CON, Pro Tour Champion Ari Lax is most excited about seeing some Vintage! You won’t get a better update on the format than this!

SCG CON is rapidly approaching

. In addition to

the StarCityGames.com 2018 Season One Invitational

, it features some really unique events, like

a No Banned List Modern Open


You know which one I’m most excited about?

A good old Vintage Power 9 Series.

Vintage is really just awesome. It has all of the history of the game
allowing for a diverse but powerful set of strategies. These powerful cards
lead to really dynamic game play, where often no one is truly out of the
game, but precision in play is super important. And most importantly it’s
singleton, so each game feels super unique but balanced because so many
powerful things can happen.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of participating in the Team Vintage Super
League, playing alongside Maryland locals Jarvis Yu and Seth Manfield as
the Blue Crab Club. The team format includes deck uniqueness rules, which
might be one of the best ways to experience the format as you have to look
at everything outside of your favorite combo, midrange, prison, or
graveyard pillar.

So, here’s that look at everything. Where is Vintage right now?

Mishra’s Workshop

To no one’s surprise, Mishra’s Workshop is the best standalone archetype in

This isn’t Mishra’s Workshop Classic though. This is possibly the last big
step in Vintage being dragged into the world of 2018 Magic bit by bit.

Mishra’s Workshop decks have always been about layered disruption effects.
Previously, the layering was the terminus more than anything else. Your
first Sphere of Resistance ensured you had a turn to land a Thorn of
Amethyst, then a Null Rod and then a Wasteland. Each lock effect turned off
such a huge percentage of your opponent’s deck that you would get free
turns from their draw steps and accumulate lock pieces faster than they
accumulated relevant stuff. It’s like Taking Turns, only your opponent
technically takes them too. Your kill condition was “eventually,” and you
saw real stupid stuff like Juggernaut being Vintage playable in this

Then a bunch of stuff got restricted.

And you have new Shops.

Instead of asserting that your lock piece-generated Time Walks lead to more
Time Walks, those turns directly convert to damage. Games reach a pinch
point where you kill in a known number of turns and they may or may not be
able to draw out of it while you still have plenty of draws that speed up
your clock or add a layer to the lock.

Often this is a better plan than old Shops decks. With the classic version
of Shops, if your opponent slipped the noose, things could get ugly very
fast. You don’t have the card velocity Ancestral Recall offers, and once
the blue decks start doing their thing the Shops deck was left buried. With
Aggro Shops, if they set up and start doing stuff, they only have a couple
turns to turn that into a win. They can’t just sit under a Sphere
countering stuff until they find the Hurkyl’s Recall, they have to win
through the Sphere before Walking Ballista does.

The most important skills in Aggro Shops are just the same skills as Modern
Humans and Affinity. If those decks are your jam and you are somehow unsure
where to approach the format from but can get a set of Workshops by selling
your bones and hair to a witch or whatever…..

Or you could just really appreciate land destruction. Phyrexian Revoker
nailing any Mox feels real good.

The Response

For basically the first time ever, Vintage players have to figure out a
real answer to aggro. What do you mean a Pyroclasm and a Balance isn’t good
enough? When did they print creatures better than classic Darksteel
Colossus hatebear Stormscape Apprentice? Yes, that is a true story; the
early and mid 2000s were a weird time.

Oath of Druids is the obvious answer, and Brian Kelly is the exact person
you want building it.

This list is about five steps past the baseline, so let’s quickly wind up
what is going on. We are well past the days of Dragonlord Dromoka, Vintage
World Champion. A single 5/7 doesn’t beat Walking Ballista. The prevalence
of Arcbound Ravager and Phyrexian Revoker also mitigates Griselbrand.
Dragon’s Breath on Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is borderline against current
combo and just Shops having eight things.

So that’s how we got to Inferno Titan. It kills kinda fast against normal
decks, and gunning down Phyrexian Revoker and Foundry Inspector or Monk
tokens saves more life than lifelink. It also clears the path through your
own Forbidden Orchard tokens, so that’s cool.

And Grafdigger’s Cage exists. Sometimes you just need to slam something,
and six is a reasonable amount of mana for your typical Vintage deck. This
is just full circle to the original Kai Budde Pro Tour-winning Oath of
Druids decks, where Oath was just a bonus means to an end in a control

But Inferno Titan isn’t that fast against fair decks. So you need something
more. Gisela, Blade of Goldnight was the old answer, but Muldrotha, the
Gravetide is the new cool kid thing, I guess. Which brings me to my real
issue with Oath of Druids. These secondary options suck. Oath is no longer
a two-card combo, it’s a weird hate card and kind of engine that you shove
in your medium midrange deck with Arlinn Kord or whatever “doesn’t get
Pyroblasted” garbage you can find.

Oath might do the trick against Shops, Bazaars, and Young Pyromancers, but
it is narrow.

The one thing I like about this list is Null Rod. More on this later.

Just Win the Game

One of the biggest fallouts of the various artifact bans was via
restricting Chalice of the Void. While the card was already very swingy
based on play or draw, restricting it made games on the draw against Shops
much more survivable. A single Force of Will probably gives you a free
first turn to build with, where in 2015 they could often make a Sphere and
a Chalice before you played Magic.

Jarvis’s Paradoxical Outcome list for Team Vintage Super League is probably
the best way to take advantage of this.

After you get a turn, you use it well. You establish a lot of mana, then
convert that to a bunch of cards with Paradoxical Outcome, which then
rapidly sets up the Hurkyl’s Recall turn where you actually kill then with
more Outcomes and Tendrils of Agony.

Paradoxical Outcome allowing you to “short combo” for massive value in blue
mirrors is great. Sensei’s Divining Top giving you constant card selection
is great. Having a real clock to dunk on Dredge and Oath is great.

So what is actually bad about Paradoxical Outcome?

You can’t play Paradoxical Outcome quite like a true combo deck. Your fast
mana is more limited. As Jarvis sadly discovered last week, normal draw
sevens don’t just spiral out into a kill, and Yawgmoth’s Will is more of a
blue nonsense mass resource tool than the kill keystone it is in Storm.

Doing Nothing Well

So on one hand you have a pretty aggressive and disruptive deck with absurd
mana. On the other you have a powerful combo deck that is fine playing a
normal game. What’s the solution?

Make them do nothing.

Both Aggro Shops and Paradoxical Outcome are very vulnerable to Null Rod.
Paradoxical Outcome just stops casting stuff, and Aggro Shops becomes
crappy beatdown.

The question is more how do you best apply Null Rod, because both decks
will kill you if your deck also does nothing under Null Rod.

You can pick your planeswalker poison like Oath does, but that’s not my
thing. Going back to Oath, I do like the idea of Chandra, Torch of Defiance
making mana for hardcast Inferno Titan, but apparently Arlinn Kord granting
haste matters as does the fact that the Dominaria rules change
makes Arlinn able to pressure opposing planeswalkers where Chandra doesn’t.

There used to be a sweet Powerless Colorless Null Rod Eldrazi deck that was
basically the Legacy version of the same deck, but it totally fell off the
map over the last year or two. Turns out that Foundry Inspector Shops is
more explosive than Eldrazi, Monastery Mentor is more powerful, and Oath of
Druids is a huge issue. More Shops-esque-powered Eldrazi decks have popped
up, but that isn’t really my thing. If you want to play Shops but like your
spare kidney, this is probably a fine compromise.

Honestly, the best thing to do with Null Rod might be sideboard it in your
normal decks that just care a little less about it than Shops or Outcome.
Our TVSL Storm deck had it to beat Outcome, our Shops deck had it to beat
Outcome, I would want it out of the Vintage Czech Pile deck, and I would
want Stony Silence out of… scratch that. I almost implied I advised playing
Landstill, and that would violate my content creation policy of giving
advice I would give myself.

Okay, we were officially beaten so badly by this deck I have to talk about

Stax is kinda awesome.

Ensnaring Bridge has proved itself a potent lock piece in Modern, and it
feels like that is just starting to flow backwards to other formats. Or
maybe creatures are just starting to flow back and Ensnaring Bridge follows
them. Regardless, Ensnaring Bridge is a great way to stop Dredge and Shops,
especially when Null Rod stops Shops’ normal anti-Bridge Walking Ballista

Crucible of Worlds is another perfect pairing here. It both hard locks Null
Rod’ed combo decks and gives you post-Bridge lock eventuality.

Serum Powder might have been a concession to the TVSL overlap rules, but it
serves a key role here. These lock pieces are way more conditional than
Spheres, giving you a lot more non-functional hands than normal Shops.
Serum Powder mulligans are critical to having enough cards to function
because you are just looking for a couple key pieces.

While I’m not sold on Smokestack, I can appreciate the utility it serves as
a post-Ensnaring Bridge “victory” condition and to bin your own Bridges and
Null Rods and Mana Crypts for the eventual win. The part of the deck I’m
certain is wrong is Metalwork Colossus, which I assume was just trying to
dodge the team deckbuilding overlap rules. It’s just the doofiest, slowest
way to win with a huge drawback of getting stuck in hand with Ensnaring
Bridge when Monk tokens and Arcbound Ravager are relevant cards. If I want
a big whammy that wins non-Bridge games, I would stick to the classic
Precursor Golem or Walking Ballistas of the world. Yea, Ballista plus Null
Rod isn’t great, but Ballista when you don’t have Rod is, so who cares.

The Next Level Is Being Normal

This list that won the European Vintage Championship is a work of art.

But let’s talk about Mentor.

Mentor is this happy medium where nothing really crushes it, but it doesn’t
do anything exceptional either. It’s the Jund of the format. You have
Mental Misstep and Pyroblast, but the Paradoxical Outcome decks are almost
as disruptive and overrun you if you miss a single counter fight. The same
applies to Oath of Druids not being stopped by Pyroblast or Mental Misstep.
You have Swords to Plowshares and stuff against Shops, but sometimes you
draw your Mental Missteps and get Shopped.

But you won’t get got by whatever horrible crap your opponent is packing.

If you want to have a medium time, leverage general Vintage skill to beat
people, and win a solid amount of matches but not necessarily all of them,
Mentor is for you.

Now Stony Silence, Young Pyromancer Mentor…that’s more like it.

As you can tell I really appreciate Null Rod, so having Null Rod that
dodges Hurkyl’s Recall is great. Young Pyromancer lets you really leverage
a clock through your disruption against bigger blue decks. Shops you can
plan for. The big issue here, as evidenced by four total Containment
Priests and Grafdigger’s Cages, is Oath of Druids, but I’m fine sacrificing
percentage there.

If you want to do all the medium plus things and have people tilt off about
your stupid main deck hate cards, play Silence Mentor.

The Rest

Storm is in a sad state. While Shops lost a lot of hate, the speed plus
moderate hate plan is very effective. The opposing blue overload on Mental
Missteps is similar, with the speed of Monastery Mentor and Young
Pyromancer being an issue. Yawgmoth’s Bargain is really powerful but not in
a Phyrexian Revoker world. I love Mind’s Desire more than almost anyone,
but now isn’t the time.

I loved these decks in 2014…before Treasure Cruise was printed and when
they were the best Gush deck due to Flusterstorm covering the combo ones
and Doomsday being a living mess. Their leverage was always Dark Confidant
and Snapcaster Mage being the best card advantage that doesn’t require a
Spell Pierc- punishable mana investment. I’m skeptical that holds in a
world of delve spells and more Sensei’s Divining Top, but if you want to
play a Modern midrange deck with Vintage cards, I can’t stop you.

I’m not a licensed graveyard professional. Ask your deck doctor if Dredge
is right for you. If you experience multiple hands without Bazaar of
Baghdad in a row, seek immediate care.

As much as Vintage has changed in the last few years, this is still the
same format it always has been. There’s an Oath deck that punishes
creatures, Shops and Dredge doing their thing, a random restricted cards
midrangey blue deck with Monastery Mentor as the new Yawgmoth’s Will, and
combo with Paradoxical Outcome usurping Dark Ritual. And it is still some
of the best Magic there is to be played.